Turning off the high street, Google’s China unravelled. Winding alleyways shrouded with over hanging canopies, bright red lanterns waving in the breeze, stalls overflowing onto the cobbles and fish and meat markets scenting the air. It was the Asia I was familiar with, and the perfect start to my 48 hours in Shanghai. But, in one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, this relic from the past was more a captured moment in time for tourists, than a true reflection of this modern day super power.

48 hours in Shanghai had started in Tianzifang. A complex maze of shops and side streets, no wider than a few bikes parked sided by side. Inflight soggy eggs had driven me to the nearest available restaurant, where surprised looking waiters hinged narrow wooden doors patterned with uneven tiled windows, into a musty room enchanted with the sound of Tom Jones’ ‘Its not unusual’.

tianzifang 48 hours in Shanghai

Tianzifang always makes any Shanghai top 5 list. It’s façade is charming, but it is entirely geared up for tourists. Street vendors deep fry local delicacies, though only the ones that a westerner would consider ‘daring within reason’ – you won’t find pig and chicken feet here. Nik-naks and lucky charms are on sale, carved out of Jade and Rose wood, but you’ll pay through the nose and be greeted with ‘hey’, not ‘Nihao’. So, whilst an essential visit, for me it was time to get dirty and meet the real Shanghai.

The packed and clinically methodical Green Line 2 took us straight to People’s Square and East Nanjing Road; the heart of this bustling city of 24 million people, and the main promenade of shops and outlets. Hotels and office blocks fade away into the clouds and low laying smog. Everything here feels big. Few buildings are less than 20 floors high, roads are nearly all three lanes wide, pavements are eight men across and each metro station has at least six exists and Costa Coffees have IN and OUT double doors to speed up traffic. It’s a landscape built to handle large quantities of moving people, and with land in abundance, developing upwards isn’t prioritised.

East Nanjing Road 48 hours in Shanghai

Checking into the beautiful 5-star [eafl id=”1663″ name=”China Majest Plaza Shagnhai” text=”Majesty Plaza Hotel”] , I was in the fumey heart of Shanghai. East Nanjing Road is touristy, but it’s a major people artery of the city too and a great quick cultural welcome to China. Bright advertising boards illuminate the pedestrianised walkway day and night, and small stalls blare out looped advertising tracks (just a voice saying the same thing over and over again), competing with M&M World and the Apple Store for attention.

img_0606My Chinese speaking friend hailed a taxi and we head out to a highly recommended restaurant just a little West from the centre – Lost Heaven. Specialising in Yunnan cuisine, masterminded and developed for thousands of years in the south of China, clientele is mixed. For most tourists it’s a little out of the way, but mixed in with locals celebrating were the voices of a few European visitors and expats.

The top floor was dimly lit…very dimly lit in fact – a general trend of eating and drinking establishments in China I’ve noticed. Red and purple decorated, with contemporary exposed concrete floors and walls, I felt distant from the street markets and chicken leg vendors I’d passed by the tube station earlier. Traditional Chinese melodies twinkled in the background, a pleasant change from the Christmas songs filling the streets and coffee shops of the city earlier like tear gas, and the waiters leapt into action as we placed our orders.

Yunnan Gong Bao Chicken, LiLian style stir-friend pork and Sautéed cauliflower coloured the table. Bright green chillies mingled, each delivering a killer hit of heat. The meat was tender, laced with spices, garlic, onions and ginger, and as we ate our way through all three dishes, a small pool of highly flavoursome sesame oil sank to the bottom of the leaf-shaped plates, perfect for dipping. The meal came to the equivalent of around £50. Shanghai prices, just like London, are a little inflated, but for two, this was still a bargain.

The next dimly-lit venue was the smoke filled pool bar of Windows Too. Billboard-sized menus were paraded by knee-high leather cowgirl boots, with small Chinese women perched on top, and a kerfuffle of drunken laughter hummed over the loud music. 10RMB tequila (£1.20), with two free when you buy ten, beat off the jet lag, and my Chinese resident friend taught me the national dice games. Centred around drinking, one game focuses on luck, while the other, best played relatively early in the night, is skill and judgement based – pretty tricky I realised after polishing off the first four tequila.

A stones throw from Jing’An temple, Mr Pancake is the local’s hangover cure, and my first stop of day two of 48 hours in Shanghai. Half-inch thick and soaked in silky maple oil, my pancakes accompanied perfectly cooked Eggs Bennedict,, which quickly disappeared ahead of a busy schedule.


Jing’An Temple, the centre-point of the city, in a sense is little over 40 years old – having been re-modified and repurposed so many times. The 20th century saw it producing plastic and, where it stands today is a couple of miles from where originally built, in 247 AD. The outside has lost its historic image, but retains some grandeur and Oriental feel despite a touristy focus. 50RMB to go inside seemed value, but it was graduation day for the studying monks so there was only opportunity for a peak through the doors.


The bund awaited though – offering the famous view over Shanghai’s iconic skyline and the [eafl id=”1669″ name=”Oriental Pearl Tower Shanghai” text=”Oriental Pearl Tower”] , an essential for any 48 hours in Shanghai. Completed in 1994 it’s not the tallest construction in the city, but the most iconic. The long concrete promenade referred to as the bund faces the main business district and the Pearl Tower, and offers one of the best views of modern Shanghai. Here, tourists from across the world apply their filters, effects and vignettes in preparation for instagram, snapchat, twitter and….if in China, weChat or QQ – the nationally approved social channels.


The city’s skyline is blurred by haze, and whilst impressive as a cityscape, the surrounding view often overshadowed is perhaps more spectacular. Long iron barges crawl against the current, ladened with hundreds of tonnes of cargo. Their rusted chasey a stark contrast from the gleaming red of the Orient Pearl tower. This is a moving picture, and one that can only be seen in person. Here the speed of China’s development is most apparent. Growth and economic expansion has superseded the rate in which the old can be removed. Rickety old street vendors sell tofu and meat kebabs cooked on charcoal burners, while 100ft LED advertising screens illuminate their offering, and ancient barges swoop the produce we depend on past iconic steel and glass constructions that pierce the sky.


img_0628Nearing the end of my 48 hours in Shanghai we left The Bund heading west down East Nanjing Road. Just past the [eafl id=”1663″ name=”China Majest Plaza Shagnhai” text=”Majesty Plaza Hotel”] is People’s Square, a major station fed from lines 1,2 and 8 (line 2 going to both city airports). It’s the ideal location to stay near, and to travel to for sightseeing with everything pretty nearby by. Across the road from the station via a small patch of city greenery is the Shanghai museum, the last stop during my trip. Open until 5pm daily, and most importantly free, it covers Chinese history dating back to the Stone Age. Here you’ll find Micro-crafted furniture made from rosewood, large stone carvings of lions and gods, and one of the most incredible collection of coins I’ve ever seen. The display also includes a large exhibition of coins used along the silk road, showing how large metal key shaped currencies eventually merged into paper notes and small pocket sized coins.

5pm and slow gandering walks turned into quick shuffles, hurried along by angsty security guards eager for their tea. The escalators of the main hall sprung into action, and this huge contemporary building was orderly evacuated.

img_0647Seeking out a final feed I head to the top floor of ‘Food Hall’ opposite my hotel on East Nanjing Road, to a small fast -food noodle restaurant. The Chinese name above the door was translated in English below, ‘Old Shanghai Snack Dishes’. I ordered ‘Noodles and soup’, opting to avoid the ‘Vegetarian Chicken’ listed in the menu – it seemed suspicious to me. While I ate around the quite hard lumps of bamboo, the rest of the meal was delicious, perhaps best compared to a hearty hot pot at home!

With an early train the next morning it was time to rest. Still jet lagged and wide-awake, we scuttled across the road trying to hide from any judging cultured foreigners, over to the Irish bar. Ironically, the Irish Bar was full of Chinese locals on a lads night out. Drinking beer, whistling at the bar staff and radiating general raucousness, it was comfortingly familiar! Myself and Leigh completely smashed them at table football, darts, and snooker, before leaving their egos a little smaller and heading to our hotel, ending our 48 hours in Shanghai.

The next morning we would take the high speed train followed by a slow-speed taxi North West to Yangzhou, Leigh’s foreign-hometown and our next stop!


Shanghai Travel Resources

Hotels In Shanghai:

[eafl id=”1663″ name=”China Majest Plaza Shagnhai” text=”5 Star Majesty Plaza Hotel Shanghai – from around £60 per night”]
While in Shanghai and after a 10 hour flight my friend had twisted my arm into a hotel! That said, at around £60 per night, for a five star hotel, it wasn’t the biggest of spends.

Getting from Shanghai Airport to the city

Getting from Shanghai Airport to People’s Square is very easy. Take Line 2 from the airport all the way. The line runs between the two airports of the city. At Guanglan Road the train will stop. It only runs this segment. Just get off, cross to the other side of the platform and take the next train – it will continue on the same line.

Shanghai Travel Guides


China Travel Tips and Advice